Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Beethoven's Tempest Sonata

Ludwig van Beethoven composed the Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor during 1801 and 1802. It remains one of his most enduring piano sonatas and one of the most difficult pieces, both for analysts and performers, of early Romantic piano music. The sonata is often referred to as "The Tempest" or "Der Sturm" in German. However, like much of Beethoven's piano music, this title was not given by the composer. Instead, the origin of this title comes from Beethoven's close associate and friend, Anton Schindler. Schindler, in his biography of the great composer, claimed that the sonata was inspired by the Shakespeare play of the same name. However, much of Schindler's information is widely regarded as inaccurate by classical music scholars. The prominent writer, Donald Tovey, even went so far as to call the story one of the many of Schindler's "inventions." Regardless of whether Schindler claim has any merit, the title has stuck and is a fair description of the stormy nature of the work.

The sonata is in the key of D minor, which it shares with one of Beethoven's greatest works. While Beethoven was particularly found of the key of C minor for the portrayal of epic struggle, it was the key of D minor that he choose for the Ninth Symphony and the greatest portrayal of man's struggle for joy.

As is expected of a late Classical/early Romantic piano sonata, the work is in three movements:
  • Largo - Allegro
  • Adagio
  • Allegretto
The outer movement are in a the usual sonata form while the middle movement is sonatina (a sonata form without development). The first movement is rather unusual for its day. The Largo would lead one to believe there is a significant introduction before the main Allegro, however, it is in reality, only one bar long and consists of the first inversion of the dominant chord. The first movement alternates between an apparent "storm" and brief moments of peacefulness. Throughout the movement, the pianist is required to show great variety in his playing. Beethoven even includes a sort of recitative, a strictly vocal technique before Beethoven, at the beginning of the recapitulation.

The second movement is in the key of B flat major, also a foreshadowing of the key of the slow movement of the Ninth Symphony, and it borrows several ideas from the first movement. Finally, the last movement is one of Beethoven's dramatic and emotion filled finales.

No comments:

Post a Comment